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compost not heating

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Post  1airdoc 2/16/2012, 4:27 pm

I built a 2-bin compost pile with pallets last spring, and have been using it regularly ever since. The composter is on the edge of the yard out of the way, beneath some large spreading oaks, and gets little sun. I put in chopped up dried leaves, kitchen waste, garden waste, etc. By the fall, I had some good compost to add to the SFG. Over the winter, I've continued to add kitchen waste (not many new leaves to add since raking last fall). I have no source of manure, but have put in a bag of composted cow manure and worm castings over time. I turn the pile about every 2 weeks, and particularly since the fall, it has been plenty moist.

The compost never seems to heat up, however. I tried adding in some blood meal for additional nitrogen, but that didn't seem to make any difference. I know that some of the seeds from the kitchen waste survive, because they sprouted in the SFG after I mixed in compost last fall. I jealously read of other posters' steaming hot compost, but mine is always cold, even last summer it didn't seem to heat up.

Any suggestions as to what I should do to make this better? I've read the other posts that suggest sun shouldn't be the issue, so I'm looking for other answers. I do find some worms in there, though, so maybe this isn't an issue. I just don't know and am looking for experience out there in the cybergarden.
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Post  plantoid 2/16/2012, 6:06 pm

To get heat you need something for the bacteria to feed on & a fair amount of it.

Try getting some straw ( not hay ) , wet it well turn it once a week for three weeks keeping it damp and covered with a plastic sheet and then add ingredient " X " ,

Ingredient "X " is your own Pee diluted with 20 parts of water . A couple of pints of Pee diluted to make 42 pints of nectar Wink will help break down the cellulouse in the straw and provide food for the bacteria which will then start heating up turn it once every three weeks and dampen down again with " X " as you re make the pile . A watering can with the rose spray head on it is fine.

Are you sure no one in your area keeps birds , livestock or pet rabbits, hamsters or gerbils ... for their droppings will have a shed load of useful bacteria to get things going.

The contents of a gerbil tank with two gerbils in it after a month or more will be soaked in pee and loaded with excrement & be excelent for the purpose.

I suspect that the pre packed composted manure or even plain manure will be a finished product with little chance for further bacterial action in the " finished " contents
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Post  camprn 2/16/2012, 6:26 pm

So I can tell you what I do in the spring...This year I have a I have a huge (4'x4'x8') pile from late fall and winter it has chopped up leaves and late grass clipping from last summer and all the kitchen waste from the winter. I do an open bin compost pile, pallets on 3 sides, 4th side open so I can work the pile.

When it gets warm enough and the stuff in the winter pile is mostly thawed out I build a new spring pile.
this is last years pile without all the leaves.
compost not heating Winter10

I pound some stakes into the ground in the open bin
compost not heating Prep_c10
From the winter pile I turn a layer into the new bin that is about 4 inches thick. I sprinkle on about 1/2- 3/4 cup dried blood and spray a LITTLE BIT of water over it. If I have some fresh or semi fresh manure, I will add a 2 inch layer of that. Then I add from the winter pile a 4-6" layer, sprinkle dried blood/ manure layer, add a sprinkle of water and so on until the whole pile is turned into the new bin. I water the top a LITTLE BIT and let it rest a day or two, then I take out the stakes, creating wee chimneys in the pile.
compost not heating 12510
The pile on the right is a few weeks old and still has a few stakes left. This is clearly an active hot pile. What looks like ashes is actually mold and microbe action.
The essential elements of successful composting is good proportions of carbon (browns) nitrogen(greens or manure or dried blood), water (not too much), and air (O2).

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Post  plantoid 2/16/2012, 7:51 pm

I've been trying to remember a certain method that would perhaps help you sort things out .

One that's not too technical but one that covers your problem .

Eventually the penny dropped , here is a link to it .

http://deepgreenpermaculture.com/diy-instructions/hot-compost-composting-in-18-days/
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Post  1airdoc 2/18/2012, 12:06 pm

Great link, plantoid; thanks. I called around today and found a stable that was happy to let me drive up and shovel up as much manure as my light truck could carry. It was already steaming and ashy-looking beneath the surface material, so it must be good enough to heat up my pile. I'm going to follow the hot composting instructions on the permaculture website, and hopefully I'll have some mature compost in a couple of weeks. My cold compost is nearly complete already, so the manure should help make it "just right."
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Post  llama momma 2/18/2012, 12:20 pm

And if you can't find manure and you want to fire things up in a hurry, you might consider spending $10 on a a 50 pound bag of feed intended for goats, poultry, or rabbits. You can also use really cheap dog food, check the label to be sure of a totally vegetable formula, in either case you want protein content to be around 16 percent. You might be able to get this in 25 lb. bags too. You will need about 15 pounds of one of those feeds to quickly heat up a cubic yard of compost into the 140 degree range. This came from a book, The Complete Compost Gardening Guide.
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Post  Cincinnati 2/19/2012, 8:09 am

Llama Mamma, Thanks for the tip on vegetable based rabbit food for compost starter. I used a compost starter that came with my composter. In a few days I had a pile so hot I couldn't comfortably keep my hand in it. One problem: that stuff has made my compost "Premium compost" because the starter runs about $12/lb on sale.
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Post  llama momma 2/19/2012, 8:22 am

Glad to help out!
$12 on sale for a one time use.... or $10 and use 3 times. I suppose the catch is instead of one pound to bring home you'd have to haul 50 pounds and measure it out. But us sf gardeners are not immune to just a little work anyway Smile
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Post  Cincinnati 2/19/2012, 10:24 am

I get 2 batches (4-5 wheelbarrow loads) from a 1# box of compost starter. How many pounds of rabbit food do you use in a pile (and what size pile)?
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Post  llama momma 2/19/2012, 10:35 am

Cinci--

Book said to use about 15 pounds of rabbit feed in an average home pile that would be equal to roughly 60 forkfull lifts, or a pile about 12cu.ft. Be sure to turn over compost two days later as it gets really hot in 48 hours, according to the book.
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Post  GWN 2/19/2012, 10:45 am

What about those wood pellets for pellet stoves?
WOuld they work, I just have NO carbon...
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Post  llama momma 2/19/2012, 10:52 am

What are they made of ? You are looking for a high nitrogen source if you want to heat things up fast.
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Post  GWN 2/19/2012, 11:16 am

whoops.... I guess I was thinking of the carbon part....

I just would love to have a hot compost pile, but I have lots and lots of veggies etc ... greens, but no source of carbon, and I wondered if those wood pellets would suffice in the compost pile, sort of like wood shavings etc
We have lots and lots of sawdust here, building a house but everything has either stain on it or paint or is particle board, or treated.... so no good for compost.

I guess I am going to perhaps head into the woods and collect leaves.....
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Post  1airdoc 2/20/2012, 12:29 pm

I have read that wood, sawdust, etc. (what I suppose those pellets are made of) will suck up the useable nitrogen in the compost as they decompose. I'm pretty sure that happened with my MM last year, which had some store-bought "compost" with too much bark and wood chips in it. My soil analysis of the MM at the end of the season showed it to be great with everything except nitrogen.
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Post  Boz 2/20/2012, 1:18 pm

GWN
If you need more carbon you can use shredded newspaper it gives you 175:1 C:N
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Post  JK 2/20/2012, 1:52 pm

If I have a 'cold' pile that hasnt really done much can I start a new pile layering the old stuff with horse manure to try and and turn it into a 'hot' pile? Or do I need to leave it and use the manure with a fresh batch of browns?

Old pile is mostly leaves and pine straw with as much coffee grounds and home veggie scraps as I could manage.
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Post  llama momma 2/20/2012, 2:44 pm

If you look at my post, four posts ago on this thread there is a description of what you can try!
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Post  JK 2/20/2012, 2:49 pm

Oh.. I thought that the feed was to use when you didnt have manure? Maybe I'm getting different things confused. compost not heating 601593
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Post  llama momma 2/20/2012, 2:52 pm

Actually you are certainly on the right track. If you didn't have a source of Nitrogen like manure, grass, or green plants, you can use the nitrogen source thats in the animal feeds I talked about in the other post. I thought it was a pretty cool trick. Cool


Last edited by llama momma on 2/20/2012, 2:53 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : spelling, duh.....)
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Post  JK 2/20/2012, 2:58 pm

Oh, good. I was worried I had made a wrong turn in my brain somewhere... wouldnt be the first. Rolling Eyes

My question is can I take all the stuff in the old 'cold' pile and build a new pile using it and the manure to make a successful hot pile? Or should I leave the old stuff where it is and start a hot pile from scratch?
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Post  camprn 2/20/2012, 3:04 pm

go ahead and layer it in! it will be a good thing! Very Happy

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Post  JK 2/20/2012, 3:06 pm

Awesome! compost not heating 109486
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Post  llama momma 2/20/2012, 3:13 pm

Here is what I would do, but I hope someone else will post with another opinion too!
I would go to the bottom of your old cold pile and dig out finished looking stuff and put it aside for use. And put together your new pile with the old unfinished stuff plus your manure. You have to decide yourself about your pile. Attention to the size of your pile is real important. Remember that you are looking to make the pile between 3ft by 3ft by 3ft and 4ft by 4ft by 4ft. This is the best size to get optimum cooking action going. And for lots more info if you want to look at the really neat book on composting I use, from the library or your favorite bookstore, it is called The Complete Compost Gardening Guide, by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah Martin.
I hope I've helped!!
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Post  llama momma 2/20/2012, 3:13 pm

oops ok Camp did -- Great!!!!
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Post  JK 2/20/2012, 3:25 pm

Yep, Thanks to you both camp and llama.

When I dig out the old I will check but just from turning it I dont think there is really anything finished. Old pile was probably 2 x 2 or so? It had more room than that, just didnt have the stuff to put in it. Now that I have manure I will add more leaves and what not to bulk it up. I have about 200 free 3/4" x 32" untreated boards that im going to use to build a new pile. Whatever doesnt get used goes to camp for firewood lol. Im somewhat design challenged so im still thinking of the best way to build it given the size of the boards...compost not heating 27650
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